In a settlement that apparently will be funded entirely by D&O insurance, the plaintiffs and 23 former executives of the failed Colonial Bank of Montgomery, Alabama have agreed to the settle the class action securities lawsuit that investors filed in connection with the bank’s 2009 collapse, for $10.5 million. The settlement does not resolve the plaintiffs’ claims against the offering underwriter defendants nor does the settlement include the bank’s former auditor. The settlement is subject to court approval. A copy of the parties’ August 12, 2011 stipulation of settlement can be found here. The plaintiff’s August 12, 2011 motion for settlement approval can be found here.
When Colonial Bank failed in August 2009, it was the sixth largest U.S. bank failure of all time (as discussed here). The bank, which had assets of $26 billion, was brought down in part due to its involvement in the mortgage securities fraud scheme involving mortgage originator Taylor Bean, as discussed in a recent post. The bank’s holding company filed for bankruptcy shortly after the bank’s closure.
As discussed here, the plaintiffs had actually filed their securities lawsuit in February 2009, prior to the bank’s demise. The plaintiffs initially alleged that the defendants failed to disclose that "Colonial would be required to raise additional outside capital of $300 million before it could receive the $550 million in TARP funding." The complaint further alleges that Colonial "belatedly disclosed" this requirement, its share price plunged. The plaintiffs’ 334-page consolidated amended complaint (here) contains significantly broader allegations and contends that the defendants engaged in a broad, multipart fraudulent scheme that led to the bank’s collapse.
Given the bank’s size prior to its failure, and the high-profile nature of the allegations, including the bank’s association with the Taylor Bean fraud, the relatively modest $10.5 million settlement may seem low, especially by comparison to the string of nine-figure securities class action lawsuit settlements that recently have been announced (refer for example here). However, the dollar figure may also be reflective of the particularly challenging circumstances claimants may face when trying to pursue claims against the former officials of a defunct organization.
Without a solvent entity to fund claims settlements, the claimants may be left to try to salvage what they can from the remaining D&O insurance, which represents at best a declining fund that will only become smaller the longer the case continues and the more vigorously the parties contest the case, as defense expenses erode the limit of liability. The vulnerability of the insurance funds to claims cost erosion is a particular problem in a situation like this, where there are multiple proceedings and multiple parties.
Indeed, in their memorandum in support of their request for preliminary court approval of the settlement, the plaintiffs argue that the settlement represents n “outstanding result” given that they were facing a “significant risk of no or a much smaller recovery after protracted litigation.” The motion papers attribute this risk to the holding company’s bankruptcy and to “the limited resources of the primary Director and Officer defendants and the limited insurance policy proceed available.”
With respect to Colonial’s insurance, the plaintiff’s motion papers report that the bank had “a total of $35 million in liability insurance,” which were in the form of “wasting insurance policies.” At the time of the mediation “less that $32 million in funds remained available to satisfy all claims,” including not only the securities class action lawsuit but also a separate shareholder derivative suit filed on behalf of the company and the “claims of the FDIC-Receiver” as well as other matters.
In any event, this settlement is to be entirely funded by D&O insurance. Paragraph 6 of the settlement stipulation says that the Settling Defendants’ Insurance Carriers “shall pay the sum of $10,500,000 in cash into the Escrow Account.” (The carriers involved are identified in the definitions section, on page 13 of the stipulation.) The absence of any contribution to the settlement from the individual defendants is explained in the motion papers, which report that “during the mediation process, the plaintiffs acquired certain confidential financial information from certain selling Defendants that reflected an inability to contribute in any meaningful way to the settlement.”
Though this settlement may appear relatively modest, it may be worth noting that the settlement does not include the offering underwriter defendants or the bank’s former auditor, against whom the case will continue. Whether the plaintiffs ultimately will be able improve their overall recovery with settlements with these other defendants remains to be seen, but there is at least that possibility.
This settlement certainly reduces the insurance funds out of which the FDIC might have hoped to extract a recovery by pursuing claims against the bank’s former directors and officers. The reduction of the amount of insurance does underscore one problem the FDIC may face in pursuing claims against former directors and officers of some failed banks, which is that the FDIC may be a competition – or even in a race – with shareholder plaintiffs to try to capture remaining D&O insurance policy proceeds, before they are eroded by defense expense. That said, it does seem like an attempt was made as part of this settlement to preserve some remaining portions of the bank’s D&O insurance in order for them to defend or resolve the FDIC’s claims.
I have in any event added the Colonial Bank settlement to my running tally of subprime and credit crisis-related case resolutions, which can be accessed here.
Among the individual defendants party to this settlement is Colonial’s colorful and controversial former Chairman and CEO, Bobby Lowder. In addition to Colonial, Lowder has long been associated with Auburn University. I discussed Lowder’s Auburn connection in a prior post, which can be found here.